Politics

SEND review response coming ‘early’ next year, and 3 things we learned at education questions

Ministers faced questions from MPs in the House of Commons

Ministers faced questions from MPs in the House of Commons

Familiar faces returned to the government front benches this afternoon for the first education questions since the latest reshuffle.

Education secretary Gillian Keegan, schools minister Nick Gibb and skills minister Robert Halfon, who had all previously served as Department for Education ministers, were re-appointed last month.

Today, alongside new children’s minister Claire Coutinho, the team took questions from MPs for the first time.

1. SEND review response coming in ‘early’ 2023

Schools Week revealed last week how ministers had abandoned their pledge to decide on sweeping reforms to the broken special educational needs and disabilities system by the end of this calendar year.

Today, children’s minister Claire Coutinho confirmed the delay, but said Keegan had written to the sector to promise a response and improvement plan “early in the new year”.

Shadow minister Helen Hayes pointed out it had now been more than eight months since the review was published, and over four months since the consultation closed.

“While this government has been preoccupied with its own internal disputes, the trashing of the economy and an endless merry-go-round of reshuffles, children with special educational needs and disabilities and their families are left to suffer.”

2. Ministers hope to unveil 300 rebuilding projects before January

Under the government’s school rebuilding programme, 500 schools will get full or partial rebuilds over a ten year period.

Ministers have only confirmed the first 161 projects, and said earlier this year it intended to name up to 300 more by the end of this financial year, which comes in March.

But schools minister Nick Gibb said today the government hoped to bring this forward.

“Bids to the schools rebuilding programme are being assessed by officials, and we expect to confirm up to 300 schools this financial year, in fact, we hope to make that announcement by the end of December.”

But he dodged a call from shadow schools minister Stephen Morgan to publish underlying data from the last school condition survey.

3. Unions should end strike threat after £2bn injection

Earlier this month, chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced £2 billion extra funding for schools in each of the next two years.

Today, Keegan claimed this would be the “highest real-terms spending on schools in history”. It is similar to a claim last week, which has been contested by experts.

The education secretary also claimed the injection was “what was asked for by teachers, by heads and by unions”.

“And given this I very much hope that both sides of the house will be united in calling on the unions to end the threat of strike action as our children work hard to catch up on lost learning.”

4. Labour private school plan the ‘politics of envy’

Labour announced last year that it would keep a Jeremy Corbyn-era policy of ending tax breaks for private schools if it wins the next general election.

This has recently prompted criticism of the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. Bridget Phillipson, the education secretary, brought up the policy at education questions today.

Keegan agreed the “most important thing is to make sure that we focus on every school, every child that goes to a state school, gets a brilliant education”.

But she claimed the “policy that the honourable lady has been talking about and they are developing I believe is ill-thought-through”.

“It could indeed cost money and lead to disruption as young people move from the private to the state sector. It is the politics of envy.”

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